Safe Haven for Homeless Pets

When a robber held her up at knife-point on the streets of Hong Kong, Ms Cathy Strong was traumatised. For two weeks, she barely left the safety of her home. But after her husband brought home a stray kitten, she was forced to venture out again to buy a feeding bottle to tend to it. "Ever since, I started to notice the plight of animals," she said.

More than 30 years on from her traumatic experience, Ms Strong now runs Pets Villa, an open concept animal shelter in Pasir Ris. The 61-year-old said her aim was to witness a Singapore free of strays: "I may not be able to see my dream come true within my lifetime, but it can - and will - happen one day." She first became active in animal welfare circles after returning from Hong Kong. In 2002, she founded the Animal Lovers League, a non-profit organization that fed and sterilized stray cats and dogs.

Two years later, she set up the shelter, prompted in part by the culling of strays due to Sars. Despite starting out in 2004 with only about 100 cats and 20 dogs, it now looks after 600 animals on a plot of land about half the size of a football pitch. At full capacity, it can no longer accept new pets despite the many calls it receives. The shelter encourages people to adopt, but only three or four successful matches are made each month. Smaller animals, which are allowed in flats, tend to get adopted more quickly, leaving many others behind.

Animal Lovers League volunteers still feed and sterilize strays on a regular basis. Ms Strong emphasized that they are there to help all creatures, whether or not they are in the shelter. At Pets Villa, the volunteers clean, bathe, feed and walk the dogs, and address medical needs. The older ones suffer from a host of ailments such as kidney and liver failure, arthritis and cataracts. Caring for this many animals does not come cheap, Ms Strong admitted.

Expenses each month can amount to $40,000.

The shelter receives private donations and offers a pet boarding service for $5 per day. It also allows people to sponsor a particular animal for $130 a month. Long-time volunteers make sure the shelter continues to exist. Ms Christine Bernadette, 23, has been helping out several times a week for seven years. As the petite teacher spoke to The Sunday Times, she deftly handled dogs weighing as much as her. "The animals keep me coming back," she said.
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Ms Cathy Strong (above) founded the Animal Lovers League, a non-profit organization that feeds and sterilizes stray cats and dogs, in 2002. Two years later, she set up the Pets Villa shelter, prompted in part by the culling of strays due to Sars. -- PHOTO